Saints fans might have to wait until early April to see the famous Redvee take part in the Challenge Cup, but the race to Wembley starts this weekend as the first round gets underway.
Ashton Bears have been selected as one of the teams who will get the famous old competition started and, while they sit over the St. Helens/Wigan border, they have a strong Saints connection with legendary full back Phil Veivers as Head Coach and regular Redvee.net contributor Wayne Haselden as Team Manager.
We caught up with Wayne to find out how the Bears were invited into the Challenge Cup, about their preparations and the buzz of taking part for the first time.
Just give us a bit of background regarding your club and yourself, Wayne.
We are Ashton Bears, founded in 1987 and we play in the Premier Division of the North West Men’s League. We have recently been drawn against Edinburgh Eagles in the 1st Round of the Coral Challenge Cup on Saturday 11th January and this will be our first ever appearance in the competition. I retired from playing around 5 years ago and since then I have had a dual role within the Open Age set up. Firstly I am one of two Assistant Coaches to Phil Veivers, along with Danny Sculthorpe. Secondly I am also the Team Manager which means I am responsible for off-field duties such as looking after the finances, liaising with the RFL with regards to fixtures and referee appointments, looking after all the match day kit and equipment we need and making sure all player registrations and statistics are kept up to date. So it’s a very busy role and I’m doing something rugby-related pretty much 7 days a week but it’s something I really enjoy.
How do you get invited into the Challenge Cup?
We were invited by the RFL to take part in the Challenge Cup thanks to us finishing 2nd in the Premier Division in 2019, which was our highest finishing position since being promoted back in 2008.
What preparation is required when you know you’re involved/know who you’ll be playing?
To be honest we have tried to keep our preparation as normal as possible. We would usually train twice a week during the regular season and we haven’t changed our routine. Because of the timings involved and it being so early in the year (our league season doesn’t start until March) we haven’t had a very long preparation really and obviously we’ve had Christmas in there too so it’s been a bit stop start, but I’m sure that’s the same for every team involved in these early rounds. We brought the lads in for a mini pre-season before Christmas, then came back for a session yesterday and will have 2 more sessions prior to the game next week. We have trained the same way we always do but obviously with added intensity and excitement from everyone involved. We are confident we will be ready for the game next week.
What does it mean to the club to be invited to play in the Challenge Cup? Is there any financial reward this early in the competition?
It’s absolutely massive for our club to be taking part in such a famous and well-established competition. We only escaped relegation 3 years ago by the skin of our teeth so to now be playing in the Challenge Cup shows the growth we’ve made in a short space of time. It’s also particularly pleasing for people like our Chairman Steve “Arker” Jones who has devoted so many years to this club and deserves some recognition. I know he is a very proud man right now! There is no financial reward to the away teams in the first couple of rounds (gate receipts only split from round 3 onwards) so if we were to get through to round 2 then I’m sure a home tie would be welcomed! But we aren’t thinking about that aspect of it really. We just want to embrace being in this competition and give it our best shot. Any exposure or financial reward will take care of itself if we do well enough. The reaction was brilliant from the players and from the junior section of the club too who have supported us massively. When I first got the email from the RFL I couldn’t believe it and told Phil Veivers and our Chairman first of all. Then once we put something out on social media and in the various Whatsapp groups you could sense how excited and proud everyone was. Similarly when the draw took place and we knew we were off to Edinburgh I must have got over 100 messages in 5 minutes from players and spectators. I even had a couple of former players contemplating coming out of retirement! We have made a big effort to make it easy for our spectators and wider community to be part of the day. We’ve had messages of support from various people in the town and from other sporting organisations too. We are taking 2 full coaches up there which is great for a community club like ours, especially given the distance to Edinburgh. I’m sure we’ll be well supported on the day and we hope to do our town proud.
How do you make sure it doesn’t disrupt your season?
As mentioned before our season doesn’t start until March, so effectively we have replaced pre-season friendlies with the Challenge Cup! It’s only if we get to the 5th round and beyond that our league fixtures would be disrupted so we aren’t thinking about that. We are taking it one game at a time and seeing how far this journey can go. We will worry about any clashes with other commitments further down the line if we have to, but for now we won’t be looking anywhere beyond Edinburgh Eagles next week.
What do you know about your opponents & what are you expecting from them?
We don’t know much really in all honestly. There are a couple of Youtube videos knocking about with highlights from their games but nothing more recent than 6 months ago, so we are going in blind really but so are they, I don’t imagine they’ll have much homework on us either. We will be expecting a very hard game and they’ll no doubt have a large vocal support behind them, but we will be switched on and ready to go. It’s a cliché but we will just be taking care of ourselves and our own preparation. We have probably 95% of last year’s squad still together plus a couple of new signings, so we have got good consistency there and won’t be changing too much from last year. We may have 1 or 2 lads making their debut but they are well integrated with the squad already so there’s very little disruption to how we will play.
Where can we follow updates from your game? There’ll be score updates on both of the club’s Twitter accounts during the game, they are @AshtonBears and @Edineagles
Our interview with Phil from 2019 is still available, just click the link https://www.redvee.net/redvee-exclusive-phil-veivers-interview/